Simien Mountain Trekking

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March 8th 2012
Published: March 23rd 2012
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We spent a couple of days in Gonder trying to figure out the best way to do a trek in the Simien Mountains. After speaking to a couple of tour operators, we decided the best option was to head to Debark and organise it ourselves there. The extra days in Gonder gave us a chance to meet up with some other people we had met over the past few weeks and we had one good night out, where we went out to one of the local clubs. I tasted some tej that night, which is their local honey liquer and fairly potent.

We were up at 5.30 a.m. to get the bus to Debark. This left at around 6.30 a.m. and after just the one breakdown, arrived 4 and half hours later. We were quickly harassed by several hangers on as we made our way to the Simien National Park Office. There we arranged a 5 day, 4 night trek. We hired a scout - a guy with a gun - which is mandatory. We got one who also was sporting a cowboy hat! We also hired a mule and mule handler. It would have been pretty tough to carry all our stuff.

We then went to rent my tent, mattresses, sleeping bag and our cooking equipment. For some reason we had about 10 people trying to 'help' us with this. Of course each of them was looking for a tip for pretty much getting in our way. We were approached by a guy who offered to give us a lift into the park for 500 Birr. This was well below the going rate and gave us an extra day of walking in the actual park so we agreed.

We got the lift all the way to Sankaber camp and set up our tents. We then went off for a walk back on a trail the way we had come. We told our scout - who had no English - or at least tried to we were heading off, but he seemed happy enough to stay and have a rest. We walked for about 2 hours back and all of sudden came across about a hundred baboons. They were pretty fearless and pretty much took no notice of us as we tried to take photos of them. We then bumped into this guide and scout who asked where our scout was. They told us that we weren't allowed to be out in the park without our scout and that we had to go back. We told them in no uncertain terms, we wouldn't go back and continued on. We then bumped into our mule handler and mule, who hadn't come in the car and walked back to the camp with him.

We got our Kerosene stove going and cooked up a pretty damn nice pasta and tuna with tomato sauce - even if the ingredients bought in the shop cost about twice what an average meal would be. The only other people at our campsite were a French couple in their 60s. They had been all over Africa - and the world - it seemed. They were nice enough, but couldn't have been more French if they tried. I was in bed by 8.30 p.m. and was in for a pretty cold night.

We were up at 7 a.m. the next morning for our trek to Gich. We had breakfast, packed up our stuff and were about to go when our mule handler pointed at my backpack indicating that he couldn't get it on the mule. Despite the French couple's mule looking like it was about to keel over with the amount of stuff on it, I couldn't convince him to put my light backpack on to our mule, who comparatively had a light enough load.

It was a bad start to the day, but my mood lightened as we walked through some of the most jaw dropping views I have seen. We also spotted a Walia Ibex, which is extremely rare. One problem we had was the lack of water we had on us. Most of it was on the mule, which had taken a different route. It didn't help matters when our scout downed about half of one of our bottles of water in one go. This meant that we trekked on to the Gich camp as quick as possible, where we were able to get some drinks.

There I met an Irish couple who it turned out live in Mount Anville, about 5 minutes from my house. Small world! We also got talking to a guy running a lodge at Gich which had beds, a shower, food and drinks. He was complaining that the people in the main office never told tourists about his lodge, which seems a shame as it seemed to be pretty well run and could be a better option than camping.

That night on Gich, which is at an altitude of 3,600m was pretty freezing. Before we went to sleep, I got some food at the lodge and we boiled some water to make it drinkable for the next day. This would have been fine except for the fact it was boiled in the same pot we had used for chicken noodles, so we had chicken flavoured water to refresh ourselves the next day. That night, I was more prepared for the cold and cocooned myself sufficiently to get some sleep.

The next day we climbed up to the top of Imet Gogo, back down and then on to Chennek camp. This trek had some of the most amazing scenery we had scene, although very little wildlife. The shower at Chennek, which had no curtain, also had an epic view over the mountains and valley. We again had some tuna and pasta for dinner and sat with some other trekkers by a fire, before going to sleep, when again my cocoon did the trick.

The next day we started the trek back towards Debark. We walked mostly along the road to the Sankaber camp and by comparison to the previous two days, it was fairly dull. We set up camp, had more tuna and pasta for dinner, this time throwing in some vegetables we acquired from a cook at the camp. There was a few more people at Sankaber this time and we sataround the fire before heading to bed. The next day we started trekking back to Debark. After about 2 hours, a truck passed us by and we negotiated a lift back for 100 Birr each. We tipped our muleman and scout 100 Birr each, who aside from not being the most competent, we had got along fairly well with. The muleman seemed a lot happier than the scout, who probably expected more than the muleman, but I was happy enough for the muleman to get at least the same as he did a lot more work.

Back in Debark, we tried to see if we could get any transport on to Axum, but the public bus had gone and there were no drivers going, who would take us for a reasonable fee. We stayed the night in the Simien Park Hotel and it was nice to just sit, chill out with a few beers watching the sport's highlights from the weekend. That night I stayed up to watch Arsenal Newcastle. I was the only faranji in the place and got talking to a few of the locals. They asked who I was up for and I said I didn't mind, except I joked that I didn't like one of the guys Thierry Henry jerseys. When I said I was Irish they immediately knew why and there was a Mexican wave-like ripple of people doing the Henry-handball movement through the pub explaining to everyone why I had said I didn't like his Henry jersey! I watched the whole match with them and had some good banter with the ones who had English. They all went mental when Arsenal scored in the last minute, except for the 2 Newcastle fans.

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1st April 2012

Hello Mark I am enjoying your blog so much, keep well god bless Deirdre x

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